There are an estimated 76 million cases of foodborne illness per year in the U.S. This means the odds of any one person suffering from a foodborne illness during the year is about 1 in 4. It is estimated that 325,000 of these cases are serious enough to require hospitalization and 5,000 cases result in death.
Foodborne illness can result in long-term detrimental health effects such as arthritis. The most sever cases tend to occur in the very old, the very young, those who have an illness already that reduces their immune system function, and healthy people exposed to a very high dose of a pathogen.
Food that contains a foodborne pathogen will look, smell and taste normal for the most part. Generally speaking, most bacteria and viruses that cause foodborne illness are odorless, colorless and tasteless.
It’s easiest to think about preventing foodborne illness if you think of prevention in terms of five basic rules:
- Practice Personal Hygiene
- Cook Foods Adequately
- Avoid Cross-Contamination
- Keep Foods at Safe Temperatures
- Avoid Risky Foods and Water
In addition to these rules, home food preservation should be carefully done. Check out the USDA web site at http://www.usda.gov/wps/portal/usda/usdahome to find more information about Preserving Food and other Food Safety tips.
Some Common Questions:
Q. Is it true that even eggs with unbroken shells can contain the bacteria Salmonella enteritidis?
A. Yes. While the number of eggs internally contaminated with S. enteritidis is less than 1 in 20,000, there have been scattered outbreaks in the last few years. The eggs that contain the bacteria can make you sick unless properly refrigerated and properly cooked.
Q. Does freezing kill E. coli O157:H7?
A. No. That is why it is important to cook foods thoroughly.
Q. What are the symptoms of foodborne illness?
A. Symptoms vary according to the type of microorganism involved. Most symptoms include nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and cramps in varying degrees of severity, sometimes accompanied by fever and a headache. In some people, particularly children and the elderly, a foodborne infection can lead to severe complications and occasionally death.
Q. What is HACCP?
A. The Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points (HACCP) method is a preventive approach to food safety. Food processors, retailers, and food service establishments monitor the steps-the critical control points-where something could go wrong and correct any problems that could make their product unsafe to eat.
Q. Is the incidence of foodborne illness rising?
A. The number of reported cases of foodborne illness has increased. The increase may be partially due to an increase in people with weakened immune systems and elderly, who are more likely to get seriously ill from foodborne pathogens.
Also the food industry has changed. One food producer can make large quantities of a food product that, if contaminated, can affect hundreds of people.
People may also be making more food handling mistakes. More people are eating out, using convenience foods that may not be properly cooked, and children, who may not know proper food safety, are doing more cooking.